The Impact of Augmented Reality (AR) in Healthcare
The importance of digital transformation in the healthcare sector cannot be overstated, as it has the potential to completely reshape the delivery, accessibility, and overall experience of healthcare services.
Through the adoption of advanced technologies and digital innovations, healthcare systems can improve patient outcomes, streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and expand the availability of compassionate and high-quality medical care. These benefits have been recognized and endorsed by the National Health Service (NHS) in its long-term plan.
While virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have captured attention for their potential applications in healthcare, the practical implementation of these technologies presents challenges due to their complexity. A solution that effectively bridges the gap between cutting-edge technology and the immediate need for tangible benefits is augmented reality (AR). AR devices are revolutionizing the healthcare sector by providing real-time, hands-free assistance to healthcare professionals. This enables continuous knowledge sharing, remote collaboration, and ultimately leads to better patient outcomes. Understanding AR
AR is often deployed through head-worn wearable devices that fall under the extended reality (XR) category. This general term encompasses the following technologies:
Virtual Reality (VR), immersing users in a completely digital and immersive environment. Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR), offering an interactive experience that blends the real-world environment with computer-generated content, allowing physical and digital elements to coexist in a unified space. Augmented Reality (AR), a technology that provides users with information without obstructing their field of vision. Its purpose is to assist users in performing real-world tasks without disrupting their awareness of the surrounding environment.
The adoption of VR and AR in healthcare is not as straightforward as it may seem. While the technology itself works well, the real challenge lies in developing specific healthcare applications and use cases, which require additional investments, time, and rigorous testing. This complexity hinders success and introduces additional costs and barriers to the overall adoption and implementation process. In contrast, AR offers a more immediate and pragmatic value proposition, thanks to the ready availability of essential applications and seamless integration of devices with established platforms like Microsoft Teams, widely used within the NHS. AR provides a cost-effective alternative to the more complex VR and AR solutions, with the potential to revolutionize healthcare in line with the long-term strategy of the NHS. The adaptability of head-worn AR devices makes them particularly suitable for scenarios such as remote expert guidance, digital work instructions, field support, and other situations that require a primary focus on reality. These solutions offer hands-free control through voice commands optimized for noisy environments, making them ideal for quieter settings like operating rooms or consultation rooms. Additionally, they seamlessly integrate with personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure user safety and comfort.
Practical Applications of AR in Healthcare Augmented Reality (AR) has demonstrated its practical utility in various areas of the healthcare sector, including:
Training and Knowledge Transfer: AR facilitates the transfer of skills from experienced surgeons to medical students, allowing students to gain real-time insights and tangible examples of medical procedures. Through virtual participation in live surgeries, students can observe and interact with surgeons wearing AR devices, thereby enhancing the learning experience.
Community Nursing: Wearable AR devices simplify remote access to expert consultations for immediate guidance and support in patient care. When nurses assist patients in their homes, they can consult senior team members through these wearable devices. This consultation process includes obtaining approvals, receiving diagnoses, and seeking therapeutic guidance, resulting in increased efficiency and better outcomes for patients.
Paramedics: Wearable AR devices provide paramedics with real-time support from hospital experts, enhancing their ability to provide superior care to critical patients in remote locations. By accessing specialist guidance, paramedics can administer advanced treatments in the field, ensuring timely and adequate care.
Remote Collaboration and Consultation: Healthcare professionals, especially those serving in remote or underserved areas, can leverage wearable AR devices to connect with specialists for remote consultations. These wearable devices facilitate immediate collaboration, allowing experts to provide assistance, review patient cases, and offer insights without requiring physical presence.
Guided Procedures: AR wearable devices can offer comprehensive, step-by-step guidance to healthcare practitioners during complex procedures. These devices overlay digital instructions, checklists, and reference materials onto the user’s field of view. This feature ensures precise execution of tasks and reduces the likelihood of errors.
Telemedicine and Telehealth: AR wearable devices have a critical role to play in telemedicine and telehealth activities. Healthcare providers can remotely assess patients by seeing what the patient sees through the wearable devices. This functionality enables visual examinations and assessments. Specialists can guide patients through self-examinations or provide real-time advice and instructions.
The potential of AR wearables in healthcare facility management is increasingly evident. These innovative devices bridge the gap between on-site personnel and equipment specialists, enabling seamless and real-time execution of repair and maintenance activities. As a result, the prevalent issue of downtime is mitigated, subsequently fostering a significant increase in operational efficiency.
Many AR wearable devices are integrated with 4G modems, providing a secure and reliable connectivity option in areas with 4G coverage. Furthermore, a range of mounting solutions is available, designed to be compatible with various forms of PPE. This optimized compatibility allows for easy sanitization and use, particularly in environments prioritizing rigorous infection control measures.
In the broader context, the integration of VR, AR, and AR technologies in healthcare aims to improve patient outcomes and align with the long-term strategy of the National Health Service. These technologies not only enhance accessibility and provide immediate value but also alleviate the workload of healthcare professionals and potentially address backlogs. By delivering optimal care in the current environment and promoting innovative approaches, they have the potential to revolutionize the healthcare landscape.